March 5, 2024

Can Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Reinvent Themselves This Fall?

Later this month, Prince Harry has an opportunity to dramatically shift perceptions of himself with the launch of a documentary series entitled Heart of Invictus, about the groundbreaking Paralympic style event for wounded veterans that he founded a decade ago.

The debut of Heart of Invictus will be a pivotal moment for Harry and Meghan, offering them the opportunity to burnish their reputations as social activists, banish memories of the lengthy pity party they held after leaving the royal family—and fight their way back into the hearts of the American public.

A salutary lesson in the harsh realities of commercial life was dealt to Harry on Thursday when BetterUp, the coaching app of which he is the public face, cut 16% of its staff, as reported exclusively by The Daily Beast.

Harry and Meghan face an uphill battle in winning back hearts and minds. As New York branding expert Norah Lawlor told The Daily Beast: “What distinguished Harry and Meghan from other 30-something, rich, philanthropists was their connection to the Royal Family. America has a short attention span and once the Royal mystique was ripped away by Netflix, you were left with a wealthy, slightly neurotic couple living in a mansion by the Pacific Ocean in California. The net result is that their brand is adrift.”

Heart of Invictus, and his central role in the humbling and inspiring Invictus Games will give Harry (and, conceivably, also Meghan) the perfect vehicle for pulling Harry and his message back into sharp focus. The games are due to kick off in Dusseldorf on 9 September and the expectation is that Harry’s show will be released later this month (although Netflix hasn’t given release date other than “summer 2023”).

A lot, for Harry, is now riding on this show. If it is a hit, it will banish forever the accusation that the couple are only of interest when spilling tea on Harry’s family. Harry and his team will also no doubt be hoping that as well as generating interest in the remarkable competition that Invictus is, it will highlight the empathy, charm and sincerity which people who have actually worked with Harry often cite.

If, however, it’s a worthy but dull documentary, it could spell big trouble for the couple’s oft-stated goal of making a change in the world through the power of compassion, which, let’s face it, has always been a somewhat nebulous proposition, the credibility of which was seriously undermined by their attacks on the royal family, especially as they came when the late queen and her husband were dying.

Intriguingly, Harry and Meghan’s camp now appear to be trying to shift some of the blame for the debacle of Meghan’s ill-fated podcast series Archetypes back on to Spotify, accusing the streaming giant of leaving them unprepared, which will fuel speculation about a concerted fightback.

Britain’s Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, attend the 2022 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award Gala in New York City, U.S., December 6, 2022.

Andrew Kelly/Reuters

In a front page story this week in People magazine, an outlet known to have maintained a channel of communication with Harry and Meghan after the couple vowed to cut off the hated U.K. tabloids with “zero engagement,” a source described as being “close to the Archetypes production” suggested the couple were poorly onboarded by Spotify, saying: “They were given no formal lay of the land to kick things off, so they were already on unsteady footing even before the ink was dry.”

The source added that they had “a lot of ideas and did pitch them” but People said there was “too much red tape between Spotify and the Sussexes.”

An apparently sympathetic studio executive was quoted as saying: “The royal element and, in some ways, the drama around them inflated the price, deals and expectations,” with another insider saying, “Hollywood loves a comeback.”

Indeed—but whether or not Harry and Meghan can pull one off is now the big question that will define, to a large extent, what the next decade of their post-royal professional life looks like.

To be sure, a fresh start is needed.

Meghan once told an interviewer that she and her husband, Prince Harry, “moved together” like salt and pepper and said that two intertwined trees growing in their garden were so symbolic of them that their son Archie would greet the trees with: “Hi, Momma. Hi, Papa,” when passing them.

Ironically, however, the couple were increasingly seen only apart after that August 2022 interview with New York magazine.

Archetypes was very much her thing, although Harry had the odd cringe-worthy cameo, and Harry toured the studios alone to promote his memoir, Spare, which tore into his family just a few months after the death of the queen.

Harry then attended the coronation of his father without Meghan, spending just 24 hours in the U.K. before dashing back to his family’s side. Reports that Harry had taken to occasionally staying over in a hotel in Los Angeles have also been spun by some outlets into untrue rumors of tensions within the marriage.

So far they have undeniably made bank—but only by selling out an unprecedented trove of secrets about their royal lives.

It hasn’t helped that recent months appear to have been characterized by chaos and missteps, not least the claim that they were involved in a “near catastrophic” car chase in Manhattan. The allegation was ridiculed not just by anyone who has ever stepped foot in Manhattan’s traffic-clogged streets, but also by the driver of a taxi into which they inexplicably decanted themselves for a few minutes.

Since that debacle, the Sussexes have been unusually taciturn, so it was interesting to get a clue as to what Meghan and Harry dipping their toes back in the media-infested waters might look like Wednesday, with a joint appearance for a youth technology prize they helped establish and fund.

The film which was released showed the couple seated happily together, looking very much on the same page and in love, apparently in the garden of their Montecito home, making congratulatory phone calls to the winners of the Responsible Technology Youth Power Fund grants. It was their first official joint engagement in several months and the theme of family was prominent from their side.At one stage, Harry, thanked the winners, who are engaged in a range of projects, covering everything from increasing technology equity to combating cyber bullying, saying, “Thank you for everything that you do. Our kids, especially, are incredibly grateful.”

Meghan added, “They don’t know it yet, but they will.”

When Harry and Meghan left the royal family, they said that part of their motivation was to be able to earn their own money. So far they have undeniably made bank—but only by selling out an unprecedented trove of secrets about their royal lives.

If the next few months does see them serve up an all-new product line of inspiration, compassion and hope, the critical test will be whether the public are interested in buying their more wholesome wares.

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